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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

THE GREAT ALG-ORIST
swim or drown by themselves. Many students put off attempt-
ing anything on their own account till they have mastered
everything relating to their problem that has been done
by others. The result is that but few ever acquire the knack
of independent work. Jacobi combated this dilatory erudition.
To drive home the point to a gifted but diffident young man
who was always putting off doing anything until he had learned
something more, Jacobi delivered himself of the following
parable. 'Your father would never have married, and you
wouldn't be here now, if he had insisted on knowing all the girls
in the world before marrying oneS
Jacobi's entire life was spent in teaching and research except
for one ghastly interlude, to be related, and occasional trips to
attend scientific meetings in England and on the Continent, or
forced vacations to recuperate after too intensive work. The
chronology of his life is not very exciting - a professional
scientist's seldom is, except to himself.
Jacobi's talents as a teacher secured him the position of
lecturer at the University of Konigsberg in 1826 after only half
a year in a similar position at Berlin. A year later some results
which Jacobi had published in the theory of numbers (relating
to cubic reciprocity; see chapter on Gauss) excited Gauss*
admiration. As Gauss was not an easy man to stir up, the
Ministry of Education took prompt notice and promoted
Jacobi over the heads of his colleagues to an assistant profes-
sorship - quite a step for a young man of twenty-three. Natu-
rally the men he had stepped over resented the promotion; but
two years later (1829) when Jacobi published his first master-
piece, Fundamenta Nova Theoriae Functionum Ellipticarum
(New Foundations of the Theory of Elliptic Functions) they
were the first to say that no more than justice had been done
and to congratulate their brilliant young colleague.
In 1832 Jacobi's father died. Up till this he need not have
worked for a living. His prosperity continued about eight years
longer, when the family fortune went to smash in 1840. Jacobi
was cleaned out himself at the age of thirty-six and in addition
had to provide for Ms mother, also ruined.
Gauss all this time had been watching Jacobi's phenomenal
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